Date of Award

Spring 2004

Document Type



Life & Environmental Sciences


In 1960 William Gass coined the term “metafiction” as a way to describe the up- and-coming fictions that were about fiction. However, Gass’s definition is rather vague and unsatisfactory. In the 1970s, Mark Currie writes that the definition of metafiction “was fiction with self-consciousness, self-awareness, self-knowledge, [and] ironic selfdistance” (1). But this definition, too, is not sufficient. In fact, there is not one exact description of metafiction that can define the many varieties of metafiction. So rather than define metafiction, it would be better to discuss what determines a story to be metafictional and what constitutes the main tenets of metafiction.

Patricia Waugh writes, “Metafiction is a term given to fictional writing which self-consciously and systematically draws attention to its status as an artefact [sic] in order to pose questions about the relationship between fiction and reality” (2). Waugh’s definition is the closest to Foucault’s explanation of Magritte’s work, particularly when she says that metafiction “draws attention to its status as an artefact,” or in other words, when metafiction is conscious of its fictionality, just as Magritte is conscious of his work being art. Though Magritte’s painting questions the relationship between the image of the pipe and the inscription below it, metafiction questions the relationship between fiction and reality through the words of the metafictional novel. Also, just as Magritte’s painting is a critique of symbols and words, as well as a painting, metafiction attempts to “simultaneously create a fiction and make a statement about the creation of fiction” (Waugh 6). Waugh writes that metafiction is a celebration of the creative imagination. In this celebration the writer explores the limits of fiction and in some cases, breaks the limits, focusing on the “theory of fiction through the practice of writing fiction” (2). As already mentioned, creating fiction and critiquing fiction, especially the traditional classification of fiction that focuses on concepts of plot, character development, conflict, and resolution, are the functions of metafiction. Some of the aspects of metafiction that are used as a creating tool and a critique tool are self-conscious language, intertextuality and framed stories, and explicit development of a reader-writer relationship. Though not every metafictional story utilizes all these tenets, they are still prominent characteristics of metafiction. John Barth’s The Floating Opera and Chimera, and Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler and Invisible Cities illustrate the usefulness of these three metafictional features and how the two different authors apply each feature to not only write their story, but to analyze their story also.